President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones muted part of the time during Thursday’s presidential debate, but the move is unprecedented. How, exactly, is that going to work?
For starters, moderator Kristen Welker won’t have anything to do with the muting. As far as her responsibilities go, Welker got to select the topics for the debate and will be in charge of directing the flow of the conversation, but when it comes to the technical nitty-gritty, she’ll be as hands-off as any of the viewers.
A source with knowledge of the setup told TheWrap that the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates is the sole producer of the big showdown and Welker has no involvement in the operation of the microphones and muting. A producer from the commission itself will be managing the microphones.
A representative for the CPD did not immediately return a request for comment.
The commission announced the unprecedented move of muting each candidate while the other is speaking on Monday. Trump and Biden will each get two minutes to respond to Welker’s questions. During those two minutes, the opposing candidate’s microphone will be muted in an effort to deter interruptions, but after the candidate finishes their response, the other’s microphone will be turned back on to allow for an open discussion.
“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today. One may think they go too far, one may think they do not go far enough,” the CPD said in a Monday evening statement. “We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”
Sure enough, Trump slammed the move Tuesday morning, but said he still plans to debate.
Welker has faced scrutiny, particularly from right-wing media, ahead of the debate and is sure to face ire from viewers who don’t realize she isn’t manning the mute button, too. Eventually, following negative headlines from the New York Post and Fox News, Trump himself criticized Welker, saying the NBC News reporter “has always been terrible and unfair.”
As recently as January of this year, however, the president sang a different tune.
Early in 2020, when Welker was named co-anchor of “Weekend Today,” Trump congratulated her during a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, saying NBC News’ decision to promote her was “wise.”
The topics she chose for the debate — which kicks off from Tennessee at 9 p.m. ET — are COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.